UK drone regulations 2021: what do I need to do before I can fly? – T3

Everything you need to know about the new UK drone regulations, including what IDs you need to fly, whether you need to take a theory test, and the different drone categories
By Last updated 2021-04-19T09:39:42.329Z
The most recent UK drone regulations came into force in December 2020 and affect the pilots of every camera-carrying drone from 248g and upwards. The regulations include Flyer and Operator IDs for certain drones, as well as a Flyer and Operator ID theory test (don’t panic – the basic test involved for consumers isn’t too taxing).
The new registration requirements for drones and model aircraft relate to all drones with a camera fitted, even those under the original 250g weight limit. So that means you now need a permit to fly pretty much all the drones in our best drone and best cheap drone buying guides, even the amazing little DJI Mini 2 (248g). 
However, the new regulations don’t apply to any drone under 250g that isn’t equipped with a camera, since they are considered toys (most of the models in out best kids drone guide fall into this category). This means that you can buy that toy drone from Amazon for your child, but not the tantalising one with a camera on board – unless you apply for a registration on your child’s behalf.
The new UK drone regulations are confusing, so we’ve put together this guide to help make things a little clearer, and help you figure out whether you need a drone Flyer or Operator ID, and if you need to take a theory test before you can fly. Note, this legislation applies to consumers and commercial drone users in both the UK and Europe. America, and all other countries outside of Europe, have their own regulations, which won’t be covered here.
The new legislation basically involves requesting a Flyer ID and Operator ID. According to the CAA, there are two requirements and you may need to meet both or you could be fined or worse, sent to prison.
UK drone regulations
In order get your Flyer and Operator IDs, you’ll need to sit an online multiple choice theory test – 40 questions – and reach a pass mark of 30. The questions aren’t too taxing but you should at least read the Drone and Model Aircraft Code beforehand. Also be sure to read the exam questions carefully! You can take as long as you like but best not pause for more than 90 minutes or the test will time out. Don’t worry if you fail because you can sit the exam as many times as you like.
Once you’ve passed this test, you’ll be issued with two IDs. You must attach the Operator ID to any drone you’re flying.
You can read everything about the registration process on the CAA website.
UK drone regulations
Once you’ve got your Operator and Flyer IDs, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can now fly anywhere you like – the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) has also created a series of Classes and these need to be strictly adhered to.
The basic Flyer ID allows drone pilots to fly in the Open A1 (fly over people) and A3 (fly far from people) sub-categories which are considered to pose the least risk to the public and property. However there is also an A2 which allows you to fly close to people, but more on that below.
How to buy the right drone for you: DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Now this is where it becomes even more confusing, not least because the subcategory titles don’t flow in a logical order. As we said above, the A1 and A3 subcategories come with a lot of restrictions, yet there’s another subcategory – A2 – that allows flying in areas not covered by the A1 and A3 subcategories.
To fly in the Open A2 subcategory, the pilot must hold an A2 Certificate of Competency (A2 CoC) issued by the CAA. The A2 CoC applies to drones with a take-off mass, including any payload, of less than 2Kg, ie the vast majority of consumer drones. You can arrange to get your A2 CoC qualification via a number of online courses which we’ll list below. 
The single best thing about this new A2 regulation is that there is no longer any differentiation between ‘leisure’ and ‘commercial’ drone flights, which means you could start earning money with your drone.
The CAA-approved A2 course itself consists of four online modules – basic principles of flight, operating in congested areas, avoiding collisions, etc – and a multiple-choice theory exam of 30 questions. The A2 CoC qualification is valid for five years. The cost of the A2 course ranges between £149 and £299.
That’s not the end of it. There are two other categories that most likely won’t apply to the vast majority of drone pilots. According to the CAA, the Specific category is for moderate-risk flying and the Certified category is for high-risk, complex flying.
CAA info on the Specific category
CAA info on the Certified category
For more info, we’d recommend the following A2 CoC courses:
If you’ve ever tried flying a remote controlled helicopter, you’ll know how impossibly difficult it is to keep in the air without it crashing into the ground or flying off into a tree. That all changed in 2010 when Parrot launched the AR Drone, a remote controlled four-bladed helicopter-type aircraft that almost flew itself. Soon after, a Chinese company called DJI pulled the original Phantom Vision out of the hat, a drone with a camera fitted to its nose and the world of aerial videography and photography literally took off. Before long, everyone was scrambling to get hold of a camera carrying drone so they could take their own amazing photos and videos from a vantage point previously only possibly from the seat of a full-sized helicopter.
As drone popularity increased tenfold, so did instances of reckless behaviour involving drones being flown in a dangerous fashion near airports, over private property and near crowds. And, as is the way with all things when stuff gets out of hand, UK and European authorities stepped in to put a stop to it and create a tranche of drone legislations that affect both consumers and commercial users in both the UK and Europe. America – and indeed all other countries outside of Europe – have different regulations, so if you’re visiting this article from outside of Europe, or planning on travelling with your drone, make sure you do your own digging into the local laws.

Derek (aka Delbert, Delvis, Delphinium, etc) specialises in home and outdoor wares, from coffee machines, white appliances and vacs to drones, garden gear and BBQs. He has been writing for more years than anyone can remember, starting at the legendary Time Out magazine – the original, London version. He now writes for T3, and a number of its more low-rent rivals. 

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